Living Out

The African genesis of humankind makes immigrants of every inhabitant of every other continent, but you wouldn't know this by listening to all the bigots and neo-fascists in the White House, in Congress, and throughout the land calling for fences and patrols along our borders.

It didn't start out this way, of course. Early settlers were well aware that America was the epitome of an immigrant nation. In fact, Emma Lazarus' famous poem, "The New Colossus," memorialized inside the Statue of Liberty, proclaims it:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

In a world where so many people wear their religion on their sleeve proclaiming their Judaic-Christian-Islamic-Buddhist-Hindu virtue, you'd think they'd understand the implications of what Jesus meant when he said, "Verily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. ... Depart from me [then], ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was a hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison: and ye visited me not." (Matthew 25:40-43)

Lest we forget, other than a few adventurers and fortune-hunters, our ancestors (excluding the slaves, of course) emigrated because of wide-spread drought and starvation, economic privation, and religious persecution. They dreamed not only of a land of milk and honey, but of a home where the principles of liberty and democracy prevailed, and where those in control of the church and state weren't shoving their self-righteous and hypocritical pseudo-spiritual belief systems down people's throats—to say nothing of their support of and use of terrorism to justify the evisceration of the Constitution and the ascendancy of their totalitarian, vainglorious, so-called New World Order.

Romi Dias as Ana Hernandez
Romi Dias as Ana Hernandez
Photo: Terry Shapiro
It would be easy, though not particularly effective, to write a play about such clowns as George W. Bush and Tom Tancredo and the rest of these depraved Mammon-worshippers to document the effects of their heartless policies on the wretched of the earth. But in the Denver Center Theatre Company's season-opening production, Living Out, playwright Lisa Loomer looks at how the upper-middle classes, through sins of omission and commission, cultivate attitudes that make it possible for such satanic politicians to thrive.

Hats off to Kent Thompson for beginning his second season as artistic director of the Denver Center Theatre Company with the same hard-hitting social commentary as he began his first year. While Loomer's pointed tale is a comedy, it possesses the same unflinching honesty toward contemporary social issues as last year's opener, Arthur Miller's classic drama, All My Sons.

Christopher Burns and Makela Spielman as Richard and Nancy Robin
Christopher Burns and Makela Spielman
as Richard and Nancy Robin
Photo: Terry Shapiro
After being twice turned down for advertised nanny positions in Santa Monica because she was honest about having a child at home, El Salvadorian émigré Ana Hernandez finally secures a job by telling working mother and corporate lawyer Nancy Robin that both her children are in her mother's hands back in her homeland.

Despite her legal background, first-time mother Nancy doesn't ask Ana about her status as an alien, and Ana doesn't tell. This is the lie that the white mothers of suburban L.A. share with each other—that their nannies are legal. Of course, as we learn from Zoila Tezo, one of Loomer's three convivial Latino nannies, this denial is well-placed, for if all the "illegal" aliens went on strike, California (and many other states) would fall apart. This state of affairs is maintained by those in control of the state apparatus as a means of controlling the newest and most desperate of our population. If you think it's hard for blacks to vote and get their ballots counted, you haven't experienced the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

(L to R) Socorro Santiago as Zoila Tezo, Romi Dias as Ana Hernandez and Gabriella Cavallero as Sandra Zavala
(L to R) Socorro Santiago as Zoila Tezo,
Romi Dias as Ana Hernandez and
Gabriella Cavallero as Sandra Zavala
Photo: Terry Shapiro
You're right, though, if you guessed that this compounding of lies will come to no good, but that's not half of what goes on in Loomer's witty and bright dialogue, where the clash of bourgeois paranoia and proletarian hopes brings a cascade of laughs to soothe the sting of laser-sharp insights into the everyday human consequences of consumption-driven economic and military imperialism.

Director Wendy Goldberg (current Artistic Director of the National Playwright's Conference at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT) mines a terrific cast who make the most of the near-perfect material, with only one scene—in which the Robins discuss their Volvo—distracting from the genuiness of the rest of the performance.

Romi Dias and Rey Lucas as Ana and Bobby Hernandez
Romi Dias and Rey Lucas as
Ana and Bobby Hernandez
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Romi Dias, who won our hearts as the joke-telling Portuguese maid in last year's The Clean Room, once again draws us into her world, where we share her multiple stresses as a former dental student forced by U.S.-financed civil war to flee her country, leave one of her children behind, work as a nanny, and play wife to a macho husband.

Makela Spielman holds a mirror to us as Ana's counterpart, Nancy, a woman's whose professional and personal life has not been interrupted by anything, because she's a white, upper-middle class, American female. Having a career, Nancy fares a little better in Loomer's world than the two stay-at-home moms, but barely, as she obsesses over work, forms a weak bond with her child, hides her nicotine habit from her husband, and musters little compassion for Ana. Spielman's ability to show Nancy's battle with her own instincts and ego is the tenuous thread by which we see ourselves in her.

(L to R) Lanie MacEwan as Wallace Breyer, Makela Spielman as Nancy Robin and Kathleen McCall as Linda Billings Farzam
(L to R) Lanie MacEwan as Wallace Breyer,
Makela Spielman as Nancy Robin and
Kathleen McCall as Linda Billings Farzam
Photo: Terry Shapiro
Following from the contrapositive relationship between Ana and Nancy, Loomer's inside-out parallels cascade throughout the dramatis personae, in the two women's husbands as well as their friends: Richard Robin may be a public defender and civil libertarian and Bobby Hernandez may be a day laborer, but they both sit on the same couch when it comes to watching the Lakers; Linda Billings Farzam and Wallace Breyer may be coddled suburban housewives who distrust their nannies and Sandra Zavata and Zoila Tezo may be struggling immigrants who distrust their employers, but they all are fiercely protective of their children.

And so, despite gut-level similarities, the ocean between the empowered and the powerless abounds. Granted, we are not alone in enabling such unevolved behavior. It thrives across Europe as well, and indeed wherever the haves want to keep out the have-nots. Sooner rather than later, though, our survival will depend upon overcoming our instinctive mistrust of each other and nurturing our higher, spiritual selves. Otherwise, as Loomer's climax makes clear, we'll never know how many souls we've damaged—including our own.

The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Living Out runs through October 28th. 303-893-4100 or

Bob Bows


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